2013 07-14 iStock_000000937577XSmallLeadership View #12: Watch for (perhaps unintentional) malicious obedience…

Early in my career, I learned this valuable lesson. I had the opportunity to lead a transition of a client reporting group from a fully manual process to a fully automated process. This area was the last functional area to be automated in this company (guess that tells you how long ago this was). When the previous manager left in the middle of the systems conversion, I was asked to take over.

As those of you who have led systems conversions know, it is never a smooth process and there are many long hours that are just part of the process. On one of these long nights, the senior person on the team came up and asked me how to calculate a certain number. I didn’t know the answer, and I didn’t ask him if he knew the answer, I simply guessed. And, I ass-u-me-d, he would tell me if I was wrong. See previous post, What results when leaders Ass-u-me?

In this case the result was, every report, to every customer, went out wrong. Like, I said, I learned a valuable lesson.

Perhaps in this case the obedience was intentional. My sense is, it was not. Here was a man who was overwhelmed by change, his world was being completely turned upside down. He had never used a computer in his life and suddenly his work had to be done on one. It didn’t occur to him that how he had calculated this number before was the same way to do it on the automated system.

More importantly, I didn’t ask, I told. And, I didn’t lay the ground work for my being open to being questioned, I simply ass-u-me-d he would know.

I wonder, how many of the big disasters that we read about could have been avoided by the leader asking questions and making sure the team knows he/she wants to be challenged?

As you go through your day on Monday, I encourage you to pause and notice how you respond when someone on your team asks questions, and perhaps consider answering the question with a question of your own….

Elisa K. Spain


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